To really see this Caribbean country's heart, leave the tourist beaches behind
Miles of white sand beaches with giant coconut trees, all inclusive resorts, and turquoise waters—that’s the Dominican Republic most people expect, the one that attracts the highest number of visitors to the Caribbean every year. But while exploring the country for eight months, I realized that the DR’s most jaw dropping landscapes are often missed. Here’s the Dominican Republic you should see:
Constanza’s Farm Country
The DR is blessed with fertile valleys, plenty of rivers, and year-round cool weather in the center of the country. This means that, unlike most Caribbean countries, the DR can produce the bulk of its staple foods: rice, cabbage, corn, chayote, carrots, potatoes, and even strawberries are all grown here. Constanza, a town located 4,200 feet above sea level, is the perfect place to enjoy this side of the island. Mountains covered in pine forests rise above green vegetable plots and beautiful flower plantations. Well-to-do Dominicans from the capital flock here on the weekends to enjoy Constanza’s spectacular outdoors and local farm-to-table meals. Make sure to stop at a roadside stand for a fresh strawberry batida (milkshake).
Valle Nuevo’s Cloud and Pine Forests
An hour outside of Constanza is the remote Valle Nuevo National Park. Stretching 360 square miles, the park, situated at 7,500 feet above sea level, contains a variety of different ecosystems, from pine to cloud forests, and more than 700 rivers. There are also over 531 species of plants and 80 species of birds, including parrots and the endangered golden swallow. The water in the rivers is usually too cold for swimming, but the park is the perfect place to go hiking. Just make sure to pack warm clothes: temperatures can drop to minus zero at night.
Montecristi's El Morro
Head to the northwestern coast of the DR, close to the Haitian border and two and a half hours’ drive west of Puerto Plata, and you’ll end up on Montecristi’s “Wild West,” in a landscape marked by rugged cliffs, roads lined with cactus, and rock formations that jut out of the ocean. The most famous spot in the area is El Morro, a 793-feet high mesa that some locals say resembles Cape Town’s Table Mountain. Part of the Montecristi National Park, El Morro faces an uncrowded golden beach, which can be reached by spelunking your way down a series of boulders.
Jarabacoa's Peaks and Rivers
Avid hikers head to the lush, mountainous landscape of Jarabacoa to hike the tallest peak in the Caribbean, the 10,128-foot Pico Duarte. The area also boasts postcard-ready scenery— riverfront villages with suspension bridges, fragrant cilantro fields, fruit trees, and waterfalls—that make Jarabocoa worth a longer stay. You can also hop on a motorbike taxi to nearby Manabao for one of the most glorious scenic rides in the DR.
Barahona's Pebble Beaches and Balnearios
The beaches of the southwest Barahona, along the Barahona-Enriquillo coastal highway, look nothing like those on the rest of the island. Instead of sand, they are made up of pebbles, and they boast gorgeous balnearios–swimming holes that are formed where the river meets the sea. The most stunning beach is San Rafael, which has multilevel fresh water pools (and plenty of bars catering to tourists). You’ll have a hard time decided where to hang out—the river or the sea.